“We think there can be a restoration of faith in America, and we think getting [the] Ten Commandments on these walls is a great way to do that. . . . We think we can really set a trend for the rest of the country.” Matt Krause, a former state representative and current employee of the First Liberty Institute, made that statement when he testified before the Texas Senate last month in defense of a bill that would require public schools to post a copy of the Ten Commandments in every classroom from kindergarten through high school. The bill passed earlier this week and is expected to go before the State House of Representatives soon.
The reasoning behind the legislation is that the Ten Commandments played a key role in the development of America’s founding documents and, as such, should be considered historical in nature rather than strictly religious. As one might expect, not everyone agrees with that assertion.
Rep. Candy Noble argued that “this legislation will bring back the historic tradition of recognizing America’s religious heritage.” Rep. James Talarico countered that “every time, on this committee, we try to teach basic sex education, but we can’t because we’re told that’s the parents’ role. Now you’re putting literal commandments—religious commandments—in our classrooms, and we’re told that’s the state’s role.”
Arguments over the value of the proposed law could prove irrelevant, however, if the Supreme Court decides that it is unconstitutional.
Will the Ten Commandments bill become law in Texas?
This time last year, the proposed law would almost assuredly have been tossed aside by the nation’s highest court. Now the matter is less certain.
Following the Court’s ruling in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, in which a football coach was found to have been wrongfully fired for praying with his players on the field after the school told him to stop, the bill’s authors argue that the path has been cleared for legally requiring schools to display the Ten Commandments in Texas schools.
Others are less sure.
The religious component of each is similar, but that’s largely where the commonalities cease. While the Kennedy case was about protecting an individual’s right to religious expression, a public display of the Ten Commandments on school grounds could be seen as an imposition of religious beliefs on the students who are required to sit in those classrooms. As such, it is likely that the bill—if it becomes law—would face a difficult path on its way to implementation.
However, questions over whether the bill could become law have largely obscured the much more important issue of whether it should become law. And the answer to that latter question is more complicated than you might suspect.
Will displaying the Ten Commandments in Texas public schools make a difference?
On the surface, the idea that students and schools would benefit from paying greater attention to the moral precepts established in the Ten Commandments makes a lot of sense. And that Judeo-Christian morality did play a historically significant role in the development of the American Constitution and much of Western society. Even the deists among our nation’s founders—those who believed that God created the world but is no longer active in it—held no reservations about the importance of the virtues God established.
As such, the argument that the Ten Commandments have historical significance has merit. But is throwing a one-and-a-half-by-two-foot picture of them up on the wall really going to make much of a difference in guiding America’s youth back to that sense of morality? And is the fight over their inclusion in the classroom going to help the advancement of the gospel among the lost?
It’s possible that the answer to both of those questions is yes, but it’s far from certain.
Moreover, history tends to show that when Christians try to impose elements of our faith where they’re not wanted, it’s the church that suffers. And it was the recognition of that reality that led Baptists to push for the inclusion of the Establishment Clause in the Bill of Rights shortly after America’s founding. They understood that even when the government acts with the genuine intent of helping the church, they typically end up doing more harm than good.
Changing our focus
Would it be beneficial if today’s youth were more aware of and accepting toward God’s will as established in the Ten Commandments? Absolutely.
But, as Rep. Talarico insinuated, that’s not the school’s responsibility. It’s ours. And if we were collectively doing a better job of living out God’s laws in our own lives and teaching our kids to do the same, perhaps we wouldn’t feel the need to force the Commandments into classrooms in the hope that students will glance in their direction when they get bored.
So regardless of where you stand on the idea of putting the Ten Commandments in classrooms, remember that we should be far more concerned with instilling God’s word in the hearts and minds of those he brings into our lives. Whether that’s your children, coworkers, neighbors, or anyone else you encounter on a regular basis, a key part of Christ’s call for every Christian is taking the personal responsibility of teaching others to obey all that he has commanded (Matthew 28:20).
And we don’t need the government’s approval to do that.
With whom can you start today?